Dayton Creek flowing toward Flathead Lake
Wednesday, March 18th, I packed my gear in the car and headed to Kalispell. It was time for a Costco Run, and quite frankly, both Kevin and I prefer the Costco in Kalispell to the one in Missoula. Since they're both around 85 miles away, the travel itself becomes six of one, etc. The main difference in the trip is the scenery. The way we drive to Kalispell, we turn onto US Highway 93 at the Ktunaxa (Kootenai) village of Elmo on the western shore of Flathead Lake, and for the next twenty-six miles, we are driving along the lakeside, or as close to the lakeside as the highway allows. There are lots of vantage points and I, for one, never get tired of seeing the lake. Of course, if I'm traveling alone, I always make sure to have my GPS unit along with the intent of grabbing any stray geocaches I have yet to find.
To get to Elmo, we take Montana Highway 28 north and east from Plains, a distance of forty-eight miles with eighteen caches hidden along the way. Last year I found all eighteen, and this year I needed to expand my search radius. There are some thirty-plus caches hidden along US 93 between Elmo and Kalispell, depending on how close to the highway you want to stay, lots more if you're willing to get off the road, and Geocaching.com lists 391 caches hidden within ten miles of the 59901 (Kalispell) zip code. If you increase your search parameters to 30 miles, the most allowed these days on the hobby's website, you get 852 caches. That's enough to keep anyone going for a day or three.
Just a few of the sailboats waiting for summer
I understand there is a way to load a group of caches at once into my Garmin Montana 650t, but I haven't figured that out. I have to load them one by one, so I usually don't add more than 30 at a time, one by one. To prepare for today's trip, I loaded all the caches immediately adjacent to US 93 between Elmo and just south of Kalispell. I also loaded in the caches around a couple of places I wanted to check out in the Kalispell area, namely Foy's Lake and Lonepine State Park, two recreational areas I've never visited. Finally, I found a trail of ten caches just a couple miles north of Costco, and thought that would be a good chance to get some physical exercise to complement the mental exercise involved in geocaching.
Just north of the town of Elmo is a topographical formation known as Chief Cliff. Legend says that Chief Eneas, in an effort to remind the Ktunaxa people of the importance of heeding their elders, sacrificed himself by riding his horse off the cliff. Polson author Maggie Plummer writes about it on the Make It Missoula website. The first cache on my list for the day was The Legend of Chief Cliff, a traditional cache hidden off the highway just north of Elmo.
Empty slips waiting for the sailboats
The next town north of Elmo is Dayton, home to Mission Mountain Winery, one of western Montana's premier vintners. I'd never had a reason (as if I needed one) to get off the highway at Dayton, but two geocaches hidden nearby brought me to a stop. The first, a cache hidden on private property near the banks of Dayton Creek promised a challenge as the gate to the property was closed and a For Sale sign made me wonder if the cache would even be available. But sure enough, I crawled through the gate and Garmin led me directly to the cache, hidden in a way I had never before seen, and frankly thought was against the rules. Back at the car, I turned toward the town itself and looked for the cache hidden where Dayton Creek enters the waters of the lake. This one proved more difficult, and in fact completely stumped me, so I grabbed the camera and got some shots of the creek, the bay, and Dayton itself. As you can see, the weather wasn't very camera friendly, and the colors were pretty muddy. You can't have everything, I guess. As it turned out, of the sixteen photos I took on the trip, all were taken either in Dayton or at the West Shore campground in the state park up the road.
Further north I picked up the caches named "Another Smiley Along the Way" and "Sqelixw," the latter being the Salish word for Salish, and the cache being located at the sign marking the reservation boundary. I stopped at Rollins to look for "Osprey Nest," and while I found the nest itself--it's hard to miss an osprey nest--the cache itself proved more elusive. But my body was beginning to let me know that I needed to find a public facility soon, and that made me so uncomfortable that I thought only of getting to Kalispell and finding a restroom and lunch. I therefore drove right past the next to caches hidden along the way, including the one at my childhood playground, the Flathead Lake United Methodist Campground.
West Shore Unit, Flathead Lake State Park
But north of the church camp you'll find one of the six units of Flathead Lake State Park, and state parks, especially those with campgrounds, always have outhouses, right? As it turns out, the West Shore unit is the only Flathead Lake State Park campground I hadn't previously visited. I've even been to the large island park, Wild Horse Island, which is accessible only by boat. Why I'd never stopped at West Shore is a question I can't answer. Perhaps because of its proximity to the church camp, or the fact that I've been to Frank Bird Linderman's home just north of the campground. But nature was calling, and that meant stopping at the park where, coincidentally, there are two geocaches hidden. Having relieved the tension in my body, I set out to find those two caches, and was successful with both, but I left the car parked and walked first to one, then to the second, and found the hike a bit tiring. Not sure what that was all about, but let's just say that the trail wasn't flat, and there was some scrambling involved--an activity that my glasses tend to impede. By the way, should I be concerned that the state's own website for the park, linked above, starts out with a warning of all the things not to do while visiting the park and includes a badly pixellated photo of Goose Island? At least I think it's Goose Island. Hard to say from the picture.
Deep Bay 7/15 was an easy find, but Don't Get... was not so easy. It was another cache that involved a scramble, and as I noted on my posted log, the rocks were both wet and mossy. My vertigo really was acting up and the GPS unit was going crazy, probably because the rocks were scrambling the signal. The hint for the cache is "You'll know it when you see it, maybe..." and sure enough, when I saw it, I knew immediately. One of the secrets of finding geocaches is to look for something out of place. A wire hanging out of a hole in a rock, for instance, or a piece of wood where there just isn't any other wood. I won't say what was out of place here, but when I spotted it, I knew.
I also knew that I was getting very hungry. Geocaching always takes longer than I expect, and lunch was now overdue and I still wasn't in Kalispell. I had been craving KFC (and don't tell me how bad that is for me), so I was dead set on having a two-piece lunch in town. That meant driving past several other restaurants but I was determined!
The next cache north of Don't Get... is named "Tarantula." According to my GPS, finding it would involve a major climb up a rock face, or coming around the back side which still involved quite a climb. My vertigo, not yet calmed from Don't Get... really kicked in here, and to make matters worse, I couldn't find the cache. The GPS unit was again acting up--probably because of all the rocks, so I finally gave up, eased my way back down the cliff, and drove off. I drove through the town of Lakeside, passing up at least three restaurants and at least three geocaches, but stopped at the fruit stand that sells cherries in season and picked up the cache there. I also grabbed the cache further north, another one named Osprey Nest. In this case, however, while I found the cache, I didn't see anything like a nest.
My faithful GeoSaab at West Shore State Park
Flathead Lake, Montana
Driving through Somers, and passing the caches there, I did stop at the overlook just north of town, but was completely unsuccessful at finding the cache hidden there. Lunch was definitely overdue, and my system was telling me EAT! NOW! So I drove on into town and pulled into the KFC parking lot. Of my two piece lunch, one piece was so small it was barely larger than my thumb, and the larger piece, a breast, tasted as if it had been fried in months old oil. I couldn't finish it. The mashed potatoes, or what they call mashed potatoes, were tasteless and the biscuit was old and stale. The iced tea tasted stale as well. The cole slaw was good, but did I really just pay $10 for three sporks of cole slaw? If the Kalispell KFC was my only exposure to the franchise, I'd never go back.
The weather was getting worse by the minute, so I did my shopping and avoided the area caches I'd planned to find. Save them for a sunnier day. And since I bought frozen goods at Costco, that meant driving home directly to keep things from thawing out along the way. Yes, I'd brought my camera, my camera bag with extra lenses, my tripod, my GPS, my Montana Atlas. But no, I had not brought a cooler for the frozen food. Oh well, you can't have everything.